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Coronavirus: Why the global pandemic is forcing businesses to swap the boardroom for the living room

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/bikeriderlondon)

As governments across the globe continue to put measures in place to fight back against the threat of Covid-19, the majority of UK businesses have had to relocate to the safety of their employees’ homes to conduct their operations remotely. For some, business continues as normal, however, the board members that are orchestrating operations are facing increased pressure to make sure their organisations not only survive, but thrive – all whilst retaining a happy workforce at the same time.

Never before have leadership teams been required to work in this way, while still motivating their workforce remotely and conducting critical meetings to ensure the companies stability.  Leaders must steer the ship even when separated from their teams and working from home, and without a significant adoption of never used before technology this would be virtually impossible. As a result, directors are being forced to look at new ways of connecting with each other to ensure vital decisions can still be taken and effective operations maintained. Organisations that are used to running board meetings in a traditional way, have had their practices turned upside down and now need to adopt a fully online model of working – a digital disruption that looks like it is here to stay. 

With the lockdown set to continue for longer, a permanent shift in boardroom behaviour, even when things do return to normal, is inevitable. So, will Covid-19 lead boards to adopt a virtual way of working in the future?

Immediate change for long term gain 

When not done well, remote working can harm a company’s productivity, effectiveness and culture. The danger of ineffective board meetings in the current climate, could lead to significant consequences in terms of operational inefficiencies, lost revenue and even reputational damage.  And with a potential global recession looming following the impact of Covid-19, these are consequences that no company can currently afford. 

It is therefore a crucial moment for business leaders to take the right steps and provide effective systems and processes to empower their organisations – not only for their teams but for the boardroom too.

The three C’s: Content, Collaboration, Communication

Traditional board meetings have previously seen all (or nearly all) individuals physically present in the room in order to vote on and sign off on key decisions. All relevant documentation is sent to attendees beforehand and meeting minutes commonly printed and/or signed on the day. In times of Covid-19, this obviously places too many restrictions on a board and stymies it from making crucial decisions for the benefit of the business.

Virtual boardroom technology can replicate a meeting remotely. Technology such as board management software combined with web-conferencing tools enables board members to communicate virtually, make decisions and lead remotely in real-time. Board packs and relevant documentation can be distributed to members securely ahead of any meetings, ensuring good governance is still adhered to. This will also enable board members to fully prepare ahead of time to enable strategic discussions – rather than everyone rifling through documents in the meeting.  Crucial documentation can even be electronically signed by members where required.

However, technology can provide additional benefits. And it’s these benefits that will likely cause a change in mindset and ensure use for boards in the future. Companies are now focusing on flexibility, agility, and resilience and remote working contributes to these objectives.

Meeting attendance is an essential part of a board member’s role. Yet, it’s well known that directors have busy schedules, which mean they can often miss board meetings due to other commitments or from being out of the country. Making it easier for members to attend by allowing virtual participants will enable directors to honour their board commitments more fully - and many boards will benefit from the ability to include directors in meetings from anywhere.

Members are not required to be technical geniuses either. Modern tools mean that joining meetings from anywhere with an internet connection is simple. Access is made even easier as directors can use their own devices to log into secure sites.

Technology also helps to address geographical challenges. A key benefit to holding virtual board meetings is that it eliminates the cost and burden of travel, enabling individuals to attend who wouldn’t otherwise be available to serve on boards. Businesses can bring in new talent with diverse perspectives and ideas, wherever they are based in the world. In the future, geography will not stop businesses from employing the best talent.

A new ‘normal’

Since the launch of the iPad a decade ago, boardroom proceedings have remained static, with directors using Apples technology to make meetings less laptop based and more concise. But now, leadership teams have found themselves having to adapt quicker than ever before, to ensure that board meetings can be held remotely and still get the job done.

As lockdown restrictions begin to be lifted, and it’s predicted that businesses will go back into the office in stages, the transition to a new ‘normal’ is destined to result in another shift. The short-term changes caused by Covid-19 will lead to a longer-term adoption of these remote working technologies. They’ve become embedded in normal activity far quicker than anyone could have predicted, with all levels of the workforce having become accustomed to virtual meetings and conversations.

The traditional mindset of how organisations operate is beginning to break down, as businesses start to adopt these virtual meetings, resulting in a lasting and positive impact on business culture and working practices in the boardroom. Not only is it destined to make meetings more streamlined, but it opens up access to individuals who are unable to be in the office to ensure that all vital business decisions can be made. The leaders that embrace online boardroom models will ensure their businesses are future proofed and are set to continue to thrive in these uncertain times - and beyond.

Paul Stark, Director, Passageways